May 26, 2005


Down the Toilet at Newsweek: Dungeon legend and the peril of anonymous sources. (Jack Shafer, May 16, 2005, Slate)

[I] wonder why Newsweek wasn't more skeptical about Quran-desecration charges. Muslims so venerate the Quran that they are outraged if anyone touches one without first washing their hands, let alone put it into a dung-hole. One would guess that this sort of desecration would be too outrageous to be common, but a short voyage on the Nexis Wayback Machine proves it to be almost widespread. The earliest example I found was from an Aug. 18, 1983, Associated Press story filed in Islamabad, Pakistan. A Western traveler told the AP that Soviet soldiers and Afghan troops had used mosques as toilets and shredded the Quran for toilet paper. "My impression is that they were trying to humiliate the Afghans, but it just makes them hate (the Soviets) even more," the traveler said. The AP noted that it couldn't confirm the story.

On March 12, 1986, Australia's Advertiser reported that religious authorities in Saudi Arabia ban the flushing of local newspapers because their pages "usually contain a verse from the Koran." On Nov. 18, 1987, the AP moved another story—dateline, Washington—advancing a conservative human rights organization's claim that Soviet troops used mosques as latrines and the Quran as toilet paper.

Moving into the 1990s, Muslims beheaded a Nigerian Christian after his wife was accused of using the Quran as toilet paper, according to a Jan. 3, 1995, AP account. Before the arrest of Timothy McVeigh in the Oklahoma City bombing case, the American-Arab Relations Committee told the AP (April 21, 1995) of receiving calls from people who said the Quran should be used as toilet paper. Deutsche Presse-Agentur (Feb. 8, 1999) reported that Philippine troops had burned mosques and flushed a torn-up Quran down a toilet to agitate Muslim rebels. The Quran-as-toilet-paper charge has even been leveled against Muslim militants by Russia's Interfax (Oct. 1, 1999).

All of the stories cited above are poorly sourced, so it's anybody's guess how many of them are true. But just as every paranoid has at least one enemy, an actual case of the toilet-paper story is documented in Nexis: 15 years ago, an Israeli soldier used pages from a Quran as toilet paper when he found it in a bathroom of a boys' school in which his unit bivouacked (Jerusalem Post, May 29, 1989). He said it was accidental, and he apologized, as did his superiors.

Compare the ubiquity of the toilet story with other kinds of Quran desecration. In my Nexis sifting I found only a handful of examples from the last 25 years: A man rips up a Quran (Statesman, India, March 27, 2001); the non-believers burn a Quran in India (San Jose Mercury News, March 23, 2001); and an Iraqi woman protests the search of her bag, which contains a Quran, by U.S. trooper's dog (Agence France Presse, Oct. 31, 2003). All unspeakable violations, but none with staying power of the toilet-paper meme.

Could it be that the Gitmo prisoners lied or exaggerated about the Quran story, pushing forward the most outrageous meme in their inventory, and that their inflated charges percolated up to Newsweek?

This is al-Qa'eda Rule 18: 'You must claim you were tortured' (Alasdair Palmer, 30/01/2005, Daily Telegraph)
The horrors of what undoubtedly took place in Abu Ghraib, the prison in Iraq, have convinced many people that the Americans must also have administered hideous tortures to everyone they imprisoned at Guantanamo. In fact it is not at all clear that the Americans have tortured anyone in Guantanamo. Some of the "sexual tortures" – women interrogators rubbing their breasts against the backs of those being questioned – sound, to Western ears, too close to the comfy chair of Monty Python's Spanish Inquistion to be taken seriously. Surprisingly, perhaps, the US army authorities took them very seriously: they dismissed for "inappropriate conduct" a female interrogator who was found to have run her fingers through one detainee's hair and sat on his lap during an interrogation.

The detainees in Guantanamo were certainly humiliated and made to feel extremely uncomfortable. They may have been deprived of light and sleep and forced to stand for long periods. But did it constitute torture? The US Department of Defence insists that none of the Britons even alleged they had been tortured or abused until October last year – and that when US officials investigated those claims, they not only found they had no foundation, but that one of the Britons had assaulted one of his interrogators.

The men's claim that they were tortured at Guantanamo should also be set in the context of the al-Qa'eda training manual discovered during a raid in Manchester a couple of years ago. Lesson 18 of that manual, whose authenticity has not been questioned, emphatically states, under the heading "Prison and Detention Centres", that, when arrested, members of al-Qa'eda "must insist on proving that torture was inflicted on them by state security investigators. [They must] complain to the court of mistreatment while in prison".

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 26, 2005 12:49 PM

So, can we shoot them under rule .303 now? (Used SMLEs are surprisingly affordable these days.)

Posted by: Mike Morley at May 26, 2005 1:14 PM


Excellent catch.

Posted by: oj at May 26, 2005 1:17 PM

So does that mean I win a book? Or a used Enfield? :-)

Posted by: Mike Morley at May 26, 2005 4:11 PM

Send me your address--I'll see if I can find my copy of Breaker by Kit Denton...

Posted by: oj at May 26, 2005 4:44 PM

I just keep picturing a toilet made for the Jolly Green Giant. What else could possibly allow for the passage of a fairly sizable book?

Posted by: DL Meadows at May 26, 2005 7:06 PM